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Meet the Guy Behind Amazon’s Secret Retail Store Plans

4 February 2016

From Re/code:

The Amazon retail store initiative is being led by Steve Kessel, a longtime Amazon executive whose team launched the first Kindle e-reader and who is very tight with CEO Jeff Bezos, according to three sources familiar with the group.

Kessel is widely respected inside Amazon, where he is known as a low-ego leader with greater emotional intelligence than some other senior executives at the company, according to two sources. He joined Amazon in 1999 and left in 2011 or 2012 to take a sabbatical. He started working on this initiative when he came back, these people say. The specifics of Kessel’s project had been a secret internally for a long time, but his group has attracted more attention since it opened up Amazon’s first brick-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle in the fall.

. . . .

Early Amazon exec Jennifer Cast runs the Amazon Books division and reports to Kessel. She spent a long time away from Amazon before returning in 2014 to take on this role.

. . . .

Amazon will indeed open up more bookstores, but it also plans to eventually unveil other types of retail stores in addition to bookstores, according to two sources familiar with the plans. It’s not yet clear what those stores will sell or how they will be formatted, but the retail team’s mission is to reimagine what shopping in a physical store would be like if you merged the best of physical retail with the best of Amazon.

One source says the team is experimenting with some of the ideas discussed in this retail-store-related patent application that Re/code uncovered last year. One of the experiences discussed in the application would allow customers to pick an item from a shelf and automatically be charged for it upon exiting the store without stopping to pay at a checkout counter or kiosk.

. . . .

Amazon is currently hiring for a new Amazon Books bookstore in Southern California that has yet to be announced, according to job listings. One listing, for an Amazon Books assistant store manager in La Jolla or San Diego, says: “You love the excitement of running a bookstore. You have a flair for leading teams and adjusting your leadership style based on the situation. You enjoy reading and keep yourself updated on the latest in the digital devices front. You are part of the store leadership team.”

There are no immediate plans for a rollout of 300 to 400 stores, two sources say, but they could not rule out that eventual outcome.

Link to the rest at Re/code and thanks to Christian for the tip.

Amazon, Bookstores

11 Comments to “Meet the Guy Behind Amazon’s Secret Retail Store Plans”

  1. One of the experiences discussed in the application would allow customers to pick an item from a shelf and automatically be charged for it upon exiting the store without stopping to pay at a checkout counter or kiosk.

    I could see this going terribly wrong. This might be nice, but I’d wait to hear about extensive beta testing before entering a store that does this.

    • That was my first thought also. What if all that automation resulted in catastrophe for the individual shopper? Thousands of dollars charged, when you never bought a thing. How would you ever prove your innocence?

  2. After the mall man, one wonders how many of these guys are trying to get all the good jokes out there before April first.

    That way when Bezos announces something ‘new’ on that date everyone will think it too is a joke. (But the joke will be on them!)

    .

    There are three ways to lie to someone.
    The outright lie.
    The half truth.
    The whole truth — said in such a way that everyone ‘knows’ you are lying …

  3. I’m sure if anyone can figure out an innovative, improved retail experience, it’s Amazon. I’m not concerned about that. What I’m wondering is how they’ll stock books and what it will take to get one of mine on those shelves.

    Will there be one of those instant press machines on site?
    Will they stock the top 10 bestsellers in various genres?
    Which genres will make the cut, and which will be left out in the cold?
    Will they stock a single copy of each book, to be replaced every night (or an hour after the first one was purchased)?
    Will ebooks have advertising space next to the Kindles and paper books? How do I get my ebooks in that ad space?

    It’s premature, but hey, I’m allowed to wonder.

  4. First, companies file patents on thousands of things they have no specific interest in bringing to market but they might want to pursue down the road. It also serves to lay down a trail of prior art to prevent others from patenting something too similar later. So just because Amazon submits a patent application for a “drive-by” checkout lane doesn’t mean they intend to use it any time soon just as their patent for a method of reselling ebooks hasn’t led to a used Kindle books business.

    Second, this particular patent uses video (face recognition, apparently) in conjunction with RFID tags and device authentication to tie a specific transaction to a customer. Much like an online order it would email/text a receipt to the customer. This would require a pre-existing account. Not much room for hijinks unless somebody’s Earth 2 doppleganger pops in and steals their cellphone, smart ring, medalion, or whatever. Some people might get “chipped” so they themselves are the authentication device. (Some people are already doing the latter.)

    This is really just an evolution of the cellphone-based cashless transaction systems in use all over the world. Sweden, for example, is actively aiming to be a cashless country by 2030:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/sweden-moving-towards-cashless-economy/

    Several companies are already doing “smart rings” that would work as authentication devices in conjunction with biometrics. By themselves the devices are useless but combined with face recognition fingerprints, retina scanners, etc, they can serve as “keys” to a lot of things.

    This is actually near-term technology. The pieces are already in place. The only questions are of economic merit (do the savings in staff and efficiency justify the investment) and cultural (will people trust the system). The latter is no different than the mainstreaming problem all new technologies face: online shopping, ebooks, streaming vs buying…

    So Amazon may or not implement their patent but somebody else will implement something similar. And if it’s too similar they’ll have to pay Amazon for coming up with that specific process first.

  5. If Amazon is running anemployment ad for a book stor to be located in “La Jolla or San Diego,” that suggests just one place: University Town Center mall, which is undergoing a massive renovation and build-out.

    While located in San Diego, the UTC area often is considered part of La Jolla (which it’s not really).

    I hope my intuition is correct, since I live nearby.

  6. An Amazon bookstore might turn out to be popular with paper book buyers as they begin to discover the books boycotted by B&N and indie stores. The Amazon imprints and the best of indie books would be exciting discoveries and something special.

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